Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Release Date: 13 October 2015
Rating: 5/5 (or a billion out of five)
Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.
Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do: Carry Albert home.
Carrying Albert Home is the funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a crazy 1,000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.
Every now and again a book comes my way that I just want to shove at everyone and scream “READ THIS! READ IT NOW!” Carrying Albert Home is one of those books. It arrived on my doorstep (how it fit through the mail slot on my door is beyond me!) and I popped it on my shelf to look at later. Promptly forgot it for a week (hey, I’ve got a lot on) and picked it up at random one sunny day and got sucked in immediately. I even put aside all of my podcasts to read this one, and that says a lot!
By far, the star of this book for me was Albert, the alligator. To be able to build such a strong character that can’t talk or do or be anything outside his own animal-ness is an amazing feat which Hickam has done very well. I loved Albert’s little yeah-yeah-yeah sounds whenever he got excited–honestly, I giggled out loud every time just picturing it. I cared for all of the characters, even Elsie, but I was seriously invested in Albert. A wedding gift from Elsie’s first love, Buddy Ebsen, Albert is a point of contention between Elsie and her husband, Homer.
Elsie and Homer are likable in their own ways. While selfish and brash, Elsie has pluck and she’s adventurous which I greatly admired and enjoyed. She knows what she wants and she does it–plain and simple. Homer, on the other hand, is just as strong of a character but in a much softer, kinder way. His aim is simple–keep Elsie happy and continue be a coal miner (sans Albert).
All of the minor characters are great too–some famous, some otherwise–and they’re all brilliantly done. I didn’t feel like the famous characters, Buddy Ebsen, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck (to name a few) were overdone or were at all cheesy… a hard balance to achieve.
And then there’s the rooster… there for no apparent reason other than he wants to be.
The plot of Carrying Albert Home should be simple–Homer and Elsie travel from a small coal mining town in West Virginia to Florida to release Albert back into the wild. With several scrapes, mini-adventures and distractions that present themselves, what starts off as a two week trip turns into an odyssey not too unlike Homer’s Odyssey. There are gangsters, bank robberies, baseball teams, ship wrecks and kidnappings to contend with before the touching and heartbreaking end. I won’t lie, I found myself sobbing when I finished this book. It ended way too soon.
Carrying Albert Home… I don’t think there are more words that I can say about this one–it really is a book everyone should read, if for no other reason than for a good laugh. There are many of those for sure.